Antec P180 Review, Part 2: The Whole Nine Yards

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Before anything can be installed, the VGA duct must be removed to give access to the motherboard tray. Installation of the VGA duct will be covered later, but the process is quite lengthy.

The VGA duct must be removed before building can begin.

Once the duct is removed, the interior of the P180 is fairly roomy. A standard ATX motherboard has about 12mm of clearance above the top edge and a couple of millimeters below. If extra clearance is needed on the top edge (for large, nonstandard heatsinks), the top fan can be removed to provide an extra 25mm of clearance. The right edge of the motherboard has 35 mm of clearance, which makes it easy to slide it into place without pinching a finger.

Installing the motherboard is a simple matter of maneuvering the board into place and screwing it down. Cables for the front panel are long enough to reach any point on the motherboard.

Power Supply

The power supply sits in the center of the lower chamber with about an inch of clearance on every side. Although it is possible to install the power supply by simply screwing on to the back of the case as usual, it is designed to be held in place with a specially designed bracket that is lined with a thin layer of vibration-absorbing silicone. The bracket is placed over the power supply outside the case and the two are installed together by screwing the bracket onto the "pedestal" that elevates the power supply in the center of the channel.

The bracket for the power supply fits quite tightly and needs to be screwed in from both sides, which means it is necessary to remove the other side panel. This is the only aspect of installation that requires access to this side of the case. It is easier to maneuver the power supply into place if the fan in the duct is removed. The tight fit of the PSU bracket makes it a bit difficult to position the screws correctly over the corresponding holes. It's easiest to loosely attach one screw on each side first before tightening them up.

First, the bracket is placed over the power supply...

...then they are screwed in place together.

Cable Management

Once the power supply is in place, the next step is to determine which cables are needed, where they are needed, and to route them appropriately around the case. Unneeded cables can be tucked out of the way in space around the power supply.

Most of the cables are routed into the upper chamber via a hole with a sliding plastic cover that can be opened during installation, then closed to fully separate the two chambers. If the fan in the lower duct is not used, hard drive cables can be routed directly from the power supply to the lower drive cage, but if the fan is in use, the cables must be routed through the top chamber to avoid interfering with the fan.

Once power supply cables are routed into the upper chamber, a sliding cover seals the holes around the cables to ensure that airflow in the two chambers remains separate.

The unusual position of the power supply in the P180 means that, depending on the configuration, there is a chance that the cables will not be long enough. This is especially true of the ATX motherboard header and auxiliary 12V power cables, whose headers are often located at the top edge of the motherboard, away from the power supply. In addition, the position of the VGA duct does not allow cables to be routed over top of a full size VGA card. This doesn't leave many options for neat cable management.

This proved to be the case with one of our test configurations: A Seasonic S12-430 power supply and an AOpen i915Ga-PLF motherboard. This motherboard positions the 12V auxiliary connector at the top left of the motherboard — the worst case scenario. With no other components installed, this connector barely reached and the cable interfered with the PCI slots. Because our configuration required a full length VGA card, this was not acceptable. In order to install the VGA card we had to route the cable in front of the PCIe slot, placing the cable under tension and ensuring that no other PCI slots could be used.

Connecting the 12V auxiliary connector put the cable under tension and rendered the PCI slots below the VGA card unusable. (Click photo for larger image)

A similar problem arose with the 24-pin motherboard header (also 18"). Although the header is located in the center of the motherboard, its position along the left edge of the board meant that the cable had to be routed either over or around the back of the VGA card. The position of the VGA duct made it impossible to route it over the card, and the cable was too short to go around. At first it looked like a shorter (and less powerful) VGA card would have to be used, but a closer inspection revealed a small gap under the VGA card. A little force and a lot of finesse was necessary to install the VGA card over top of the the cable (and also the 12V auxiliary cable), but it did work out in the end.

It's possible that the issue of cable length could have been dealt with by leaving the sliding cover between the two chambers open. Because the opening for the cables is in the center of the cover, the cables are needlessly pushed out from the back panel of the case as they travel between chambers. Leaving the sliding cover open could provide an extra inch or two of cable if necessary, but this would require sealing the gap in some other way (perhaps with duct tape) in order to preserve the thermal separation between top and bottom chambers.

The 24-pin motherboard cable had to be routed under the VGA card to get it to fit properly.

Correctly routing the cables in the P180 is a time-consuming task. Because the cables come up from the bottom of the case, it's easy to create a thick, airflow-restricting nest of cables on the bottom of the upper chamber. I found the floppy bay (unused during testing) an excellent place to hide extra cable slack.

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